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Thread: Incorporating multi-family residential into neighborhoods

  1. #1
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    Incorporating multi-family residential into neighborhoods

    I'm trying to pull together information for an article on challenges and successes when incorporating small multi-family residential projects into neighborhoods. I'm hoping you pros can let me know if my assumptions are correct and offer some good examples.

    My understanding is that many planning trends today call for increased density as well as seek to diversify communities, moving from neighborhoods with only one type of housing to more mixed environments. That means building more apartment complexes, townhomes and condo projects and integrating them into neighborhoods.

    However, several barriers remain to these projects. Here's what I've been told:

    * Financing. The financing system in the U.S. is set up to handle large multi-family projects (in the 500+ range). It is difficult to get loans underwritten for smaller projects, since the risk is perceived as greater.

    * Zoning. New zoning trends that allow for a greater mix of housing types help overcome this challenge, but even in cities that claim they want higher densities, the process remains complicated and time-consuming.

    * NIMBY-ism.

    Here are my questions:

    As of now, I've spoken mainly to people in Texas and the Southwest. Is my information correct across the U.S.? Or are some of these problems regional? What's the situation elsewhere? (Note: I've got to keep the story U.S.-specific. I realize the situation in Europe or elsewhere would be different.)

    Can you suggest success stories of communities that have successfully incorporated small multi-family projects into either a new development or as infill?

  2. #2

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    Quote Originally posted by PlanningWriter
    I'm trying to pull together information for an article on challenges and successes when incorporating small multi-family residential projects into neighborhoods. I'm hoping you pros can let me know if my assumptions are correct and offer some good examples.

    My understanding is that many planning trends today call for increased density as well as seek to diversify communities, moving from neighborhoods with only one type of housing to more mixed environments. That means building more apartment complexes, townhomes and condo projects and integrating them into neighborhoods.

    However, several barriers remain to these projects. Here's what I've been told:

    * Financing. The financing system in the U.S. is set up to handle large multi-family projects (in the 500+ range). It is difficult to get loans underwritten for smaller projects, since the risk is perceived as greater.

    * Zoning. New zoning trends that allow for a greater mix of housing types help overcome this challenge, but even in cities that claim they want higher densities, the process remains complicated and time-consuming.

    * NIMBY-ism.

    Here are my questions:

    As of now, I've spoken mainly to people in Texas and the Southwest. Is my information correct across the U.S.? Or are some of these problems regional? What's the situation elsewhere? (Note: I've got to keep the story U.S.-specific. I realize the situation in Europe or elsewhere would be different.)

    Can you suggest success stories of communities that have successfully incorporated small multi-family projects into either a new development or as infill?
    I would add to your "barriers" list the challenge of ensuring that smaller apartment buildings (like six-plexes and the like) do not become controlled by absentee landlords who have no clue as to management or maintenance. Such projects are nightmares of crime, code violations, and blight in our town.

    On the other hand, Chicago has a long tradition of successful owner-occupied three flats and smaller apartment buildings, so....

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    I would add to your "barriers" list the challenge of ensuring that smaller apartment buildings (like six-plexes and the like) do not become controlled by absentee landlords who have no clue as to management or maintenance. Such projects are nightmares of crime, code violations, and blight in our town.
    How can you prevent this from happening? I can see this being a big problem, but are there legal measures that can stop it?

    Also, in Texas most new apartments are in enormous complexes with 300+ units. Often the construction quality is poor. Over time they can also become nightmares of crime and code violations. Do you know of any measures that can prevent this from happening?
    Last edited by Planderella; 03 May 2005 at 5:19 PM. Reason: Quote tags fixed

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Planningwriter , how small are these multifamily complexes, and how incorporated into the surrounding area are they? Are we talking about a PUD-style development with a mix of SF and MF housing built at the same time, or infill? Small, 6-plexes etc, or groupings of townhouses, or towers? Different solutions would depend on different contexts. More info, please!
    I don't dream. I plan.

  5. #5
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    When I started my research, I was all over the map, but I'm seeing the need to focus my attention. I think I'm most interested in small infill projects that are integrated into the surrounding neighborhood. Projects like six-plexes or the courtyard apartments in Southern California.

    For example, in my hometown Fort Worth, the city has designated an underdeveloped/neglected area an urban village, with one of the goals to increase density. One 6-unit condo project is under construction right now.

    Despite the fact this was a goal of the city, the developer claims she had a lot of difficulty getting the project through zoning. She also said she had a hard time getting financing.

    I live in a historic neighborhood, mostly 1920-30s bungalows, and every few blocks there are old apartment buildings of four to six units. They were part of the neighborhood, built at the same time as the single family houses. They increase density while remaining part of the fabric of the neighborhood. I've heard New Urbanists advocate this type of situation. But is it happening anywhere successfully in an infill situation?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    From what I've seen so far, it's easier as infill, because there's already an expectation of denser housing types (typically) in an urbanized area. A building that would have people screaming out in the 'burbs can go up with nary a peep downtown. Multifamily housing in greenfields can run into opposition, depending on the type of housing...townhouses are becoming increasingly popular here, perhaps in part because they tend to be owner-occupied, expensive, and serve as a buffer between SF housing and commercial.
    I don't dream. I plan.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian MitchBaby's avatar
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    Check out some of the ideas from the City of Vancouver. There have been a couple of examples of multi family units being placed in the heart of single residential and though controversial, its generally accepted now...

    Try the City of Vancouver website, and I think the project was developed by Polygon Development (though I can't confirm that). Basically the development was of a townhouse complex on an old and vacant lot surrounded on all sides by single residential houses.

    Sorry I don't have more.
    Mitchbaby: Proud to be a :canada: planner and a :canada: surfer

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The "difficult financing" argument is one that I would say holds no water. A solid developer with a good market can always secure the funding they need.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    If the multi family project is on a small scale keeping in with the character of the neighborhood, and, this is probably more important, caters to residents with similiar income levels of the surrounding neighborhood, you will encounter fewer resistances.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian cmd uw's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PlanningWriter
    When I started my research, I was all over the map, but I'm seeing the need to focus my attention. I think I'm most interested in small infill projects that are integrated into the surrounding neighborhood. Projects like six-plexes or the courtyard apartments in Southern California.

    For example, in my hometown Fort Worth, the city has designated an underdeveloped/neglected area an urban village, with one of the goals to increase density. One 6-unit condo project is under construction right now.

    Despite the fact this was a goal of the city, the developer claims she had a lot of difficulty getting the project through zoning. She also said she had a hard time getting financing.

    I live in a historic neighborhood, mostly 1920-30s bungalows, and every few blocks there are old apartment buildings of four to six units. They were part of the neighborhood, built at the same time as the single family houses. They increase density while remaining part of the fabric of the neighborhood. I've heard New Urbanists advocate this type of situation. But is it happening anywhere successfully in an infill situation?
    Another difference is if the multi-family project will be rental or sold as condominiums. Oftentimes, rental projects face greater public opposition versus owner-occupied (condos) proposals.

    In regards to the developer complaining about rezoning and securing financing, well, noone forced the developer to purchase the property. If the developer thought that it was too risky to purchase the property based on its current designation, they should have opted out.
    "First we shape our buildings, and then our buildings start shaping us." - Sir Winston Churchill

  11. #11
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    Environmental impact review is also required in many states.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    a few years back I was involved from a consulting end (paid by the developer) with bringing a townhome development into a single-family neighborhood. We had to argue to the commission. One of the main oppositions was the residents there did not want "those" people. We use the "debunking the mythes* approach". When I googled it this quick example came up: http://www.leestreet.com/faq/multifamily-article.php

    *not all myths applied. I should also add that this was not the source that was used. I do not remember the source and the materials are in a box somewhere. I do know there is a more "official" version of this literature somewhere out there.

    Did it work. Sorta, a compromise was reached with less than originally proposed number of units. Is it successful? Depends who you ask. Developer = yes. Residents of new 'more affordable' townhomes = yes. Older residents of the single family neighborhood = no.

    As a planner I like density when possible.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

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